10 largest cities in France




Lens is a French commune, sub-prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region. If it is only the 4th city of the department and the 19th of the region with its 31,415 inhabitants, its agglomeration is one of the most densely populated areas of France. The urban area of ​​Douai-Lens is the fifteenth urban area of ​​the country with 539,322 inhabitants. It is also directly under the influence of the “Lille metropolitan area”, a metropolitan area of ​​nearly 3.8 million inhabitants whose center, the city of Lille, is only thirty kilometers away.

The city is best known for having been one of the main urban centers of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais mining basin (with the Compagnie des mines de Lens), which still marks economically, socially, landscape and culturally today. agglomeration, for its football team, the Racing Club de Lens (RCL), and more recently for the Louvre Lens museum, which opened in December 2012.

Lens includes many educational and health facilities. Today it is a university town: there is the science, technology and tertiary center of the University of Artois, an engineering school, the computer and industrial engineering institute (IG2I) and several IUTs. The Jean-Perrin faculty, installed in the former offices of the Lens mines since the beginning of the 1990s, is the scientific center of the University of Artois. We study biology, biochemistry, physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. The city also has a district court and a theater.



Tradition reports that at the beginning of the thirteenth century, Gautier and Eustache, co-lords of Mons, founded a hospital run by the Trinitarian brothers. The influence of this institution encouraged Jean, lord of Mons and lord of the land of Lens, to endow it with a fixed income: thus in 1245 he established the convent of the Trinitarians of Lens, of which the missionary Chrétien Le Clercq was to be the father superior a few centuries later.

See the history of Artois and the County of Artois.

In 1415, Henri de Récourt dit de Lens, Jean de Récourt dit de Lens and Philippe de Récourt dit de Lens, fight and are killed during the Battle of Agincourt.

Spanish period
It was in 1526, during the rise of Spain in Europe, that the city of Lens passed into the hands of the King of Spain and therefore became part of the Spanish Netherlands. It was not until the siege of Lens in 1647 then the Grand Condé and the battle of Lens, August 20, 1648, to see the beginning of the Spanish decline in the region. This battle allowed Mazarin to sign the Treaties of Westphalia, ending the Eighty Years' War. Artois was returned to France during the Pyrenees peace treaty ten years later, on November 7, 1659.

Discovery of coal
Lille industrialists, MM. Casteleyn, Tilloy and Scrive, discovered coal at a depth of 151 meters in the wood of Lens during soundings in 1849. The decree of January 15, 1853 granted the Compagnie de Lens a concession of 6.051 ha. Lens gradually established itself as a major urban center.

Twentieth century
The transition to the twentieth century does not prevent certain old traditions from surviving: on August 17, 1901, a pistol duel pits a journalist and a reader in Lens who consider themselves offended.

On May 11, 1913, 100,000 people gathered in Lens to hear The Coronation of the Muse, a lyrical musical work in the presence of the composer Gustave Charpentier.

First World War
The city of Lens, located near the front, suffered greatly from the First World War. In October 1914, it experienced the German invasion and then until 1918, the occupation, during which it was an important logistics center for the German army. During this period it was heavily shelled by shells of any caliber, many of which did not explode, which made reconstruction dangerous. Before their escape, the occupants drowned and destroyed all the mine shafts.

The population of the city halved at the end of the war, in January-March 1917, the civilians were evacuated on the orders of the Germans. She received the Legion of Honor on August 30, 1919. In 1918, the city and a large part of the mining area were almost completely razed. It takes long months to clear the rubble from the unexploded ordnance and then to begin reconstruction.

At the end of 1918, when the first inhabitants are already returning, the landscape is lunar. Winter is coming and paper and roofing felt are lacking, as is food for locals, prisoners and the group of Chinese workers who are cleaning up and rebuilding the city, as the Spanish flu emerges and wreaks havoc, taking many adults who had escaped death at the front, as well as women and children. At the beginning of September 1919, the Netherlands offered wooden houses to 300 families from Lens (and 200 families from Liévin).

The war memorial was built seven years later, on the Place du Cantin, by Augustin Lesieux, marble maker and sculptor in Paris, with the help of the architect Barthelet and specialized workers. It was inaugurated on May 30, 1925 in front of around 100,000 people and the President of the Chamber of Deputies (Édouard Herriot). It pays homage to the miners, with a bas-relief showing a mine gallery with broken woodwork and flooded with water, as well as to the workers who, on their return from the war, found their work tools destroyed by bombardments.

Between two wars
The period following the Great War will see the influence of Lens grow, as well as its demography. This growth is symbolized by the construction of the Grands Bureaux of the Société des mines de Lens at the end of the 1920s, a building which shows the industrial power of the city.

Michał Kwiatkowski transferred the daily Narodowiec (founded in Herne in 1909) to Lens in 1924. A large Polish community arrived after the Great War and the decades that followed and gathered around the chapel of St. Elisabeth in pit no 1. The first issue came out of the regional press on October 12 of the same year. The newspaper written in Polish accompanies the many Polish miners who have settled in the region and more broadly the polonia (Polish diaspora). Scuttled in 1940, the daily will not be printed again until the Liberation. It ceased to appear in 1989.


On August 14, 1927, symbols of the reconstruction of the city and the march forward, Lens inaugurated its town hall and its new station.

On February 25, 1929, the industrial and commercial bank of the North of Lens went bankrupt. She leaves a liability of more than a million francs. The victims are all little people.

Édouard Herriot, Chairman of the Board, inaugurated the new Lens hospital on October 21, 1932.

Second World War
Lens also had to suffer the material damage of the 1939-1945 war, but to a lesser extent than during the Great War. During the night of September 10 to 11, 1942, 528 Jews (including 123 women and 288 children) were rounded up with the complicity of the Prefecture of Police, and were gassed at Auschwitz. This was the roundup of September 11, 1942, the most important for the region, where it took place everywhere but particularly struck the community of Lens, which could not count on the support of the population28. Part of the foreign Jewish community was of Polish origin and had arrived in Lens in the 1920s, along with other Poles having engaged in the mines. This had not taken place without a certain dose of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, especially at the end of the interwar period, with the creation in July 1938 of a "Provisional Committee for the Defense of Trade. French ”which denounced, by posting, the arrival of a“ NEW FLOW OF 300,000 JEWISH EMIGRANTS […] divided between France, England and the United States ”.

A street in Lens, rue des 528-Déportés-juifs, created in the 2000s, commemorates the event. A plaque was also placed in 2002 on platform number 1 of the station where the boarding of the train to Auschwitz took place.

In early December 1943, the first meeting of the Pas-de-Calais departmental liberation committee took place in Lens.

The city was bombed by the allies on April 22, 1944, causing the death of 250 people.

Postwar period and the post-war boom
The post-war period saw the nationalization of the old coal companies with the order of December 14, 1944 of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) headed by General de Gaulle. With the Thirty Glorious Years, the city grew further to reach 42,733 inhabitants in 1962, then welcomed many immigrants from North Africa. It took on sufficient importance to split the Arras district in two, and in 1962 to create that of Lens, which included its mining conurbation of Lens with, among others, the towns of Liévin, Carvin and Hénin-Beaumont. It is its coal basin that has enabled Lens to become an industrial city oriented towards carbon chemistry (Mazingarbe, Drocourt, Vendin-le-Vieil) and metallurgy (boiler making, wire drawing).

Two buildings were then protected from historical monuments: the station (shaped like a locomotive) registered in 1984 and the Maison Syndicale des Mineurs partially registered in 1996.

Crisis and reconversion
The decline in coal mining from the 1960s onwards, then the total cessation of mining in 1990, led to a serious conversion crisis. Lens saw its population shrink for thirty years, its shops and cinemas closed and unemployment soared. Since then, the city has diversified its industrial activities around the textile industry, metallurgy, automobile construction and the food industry, as well as around medical functions (important hospital center), tertiary (banks, health centers). 'calls) and administrative (sub-prefecture, University of Artois).

The city was nevertheless ranked the ninth poorest city in France in 2010 by the Journal du Net because of the high unemployment (15.21% * of the working population) and the low income of its inhabitants (10 074.3 euros per year on average). Indeed, more than half of tax households declare less than 11,250 euros of income per year (reference tax income).